Just last month, Turner Classic Movies channel ran several of the old, black and white Nancy Drew movies. I watched all of them, sort of in a nostalgic trance. I enjoyed them immensely. I was transported back to when I was in the fifth grade, when Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mystery books could be found in my bedroom. Back then I thought Carolyn Keene was the woman who wrote the Nancy Drew mysteries that I enjoyed so much. It probably would have been a surprise to most of us eleven year old girls that Carolyn was indeed not a “real person”.
Though the Nancy Drew series has always been attributed to “Carolyn Keene,” there never has been an author of this name, as the books were ghost-written by a series of anonymous and semi-anonymous authors. Edward Stratemeyer (creator of both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys) first hired Mildred Wirt (Benson) to write the Nancy Drew mysteries, using the Carolyn Keene pseudonym. From there, Stratemeyer’s daughter, Harriet Adams, took on the task, and she was followed by a string of authors including Susan Wittig Albert. (Yes, that’s right! Susan Wittig Albert, author of the bestselling China Bayles mysteries, the Darling Dahlias mysteries, and the Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter mysteries.) Actually, more than a dozen authors have written Nancy Drew books, all going by “Carolyn Keene”.
Over the years, and also since so many different authors donned the Carolyn Keene hat, Nancy Drew, as well as the mysteries, have evolved. In the 1960s there was a major revision of the earlier mystery books, which were quite dated. They not only shortened the books (to save on printing expenses) but they also got rid of the “dated” stereotypes that were in the earlier novels.
In the 1980s they over-hauled the series again, and created the Nancy Drew Files. Nancy Drew became a little older, so they sometimes added little romances as subplots in the books. In the 1990s they started two other spin-off series: Nancy Drew and the Clue Crew, which was intended for younger, elementary aged girls, while Nancy Drew on Campus aimed at older teenagers. (Yikes! That’s a lot of different Nancys! Or would that be Nancies?)
In 2004, they officially retired the Nancy Drew series and started the Girl Detective series. They wanted to bring in a whole new audience to the books. However, this didn’t happen, so it was officially cancelled in 2012, and was replaced by the Nancy Drew Diaries series, which is still finding its footing.
Despite the many changes that have occurred to Nancy Drew over the years, “Carolyn Keene” should be proud of her accomplishments – with over 500 books credited to her name, she’s easily one of the most prolific authors of all time! Pretty impressive for someone who never existed!